Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa earlier this year, there have been many stories of people, both healthcare professionals and lay persons, who have risked their lives to provide care to the sick and to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite the dire situation in many of these countries there are stories of hope that demonstrate the compassion and courage of leaders who are willing to take great risk to protect others.
When the Liberian man, Patrick Sawyer, flew into Nigeria infected with the Ebola virus the staff at First Consultant Hospital in Lagos took extraordinary measures to limit the spread of the deadly disease. Mr. Sawyer, who had lost his own sister to the virus in Liberia, became aggressive upon learning of his diagnosis and attempted to leave the hospital, pulling out his I.V. and in the process splattering blood on his medical team. He was treated, but he later died from the virus. Through the exposure and treatment of Mr. Sawyer, four members of the medical team contracted the virus.
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One of these medical professionals was Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, the first to diagnose Mr. Sawyer. She and four of the medical staff members who restrained Mr. Sawyer eventually contracted the virus and died, but their tenacity and courage in the face of exposure to this deadly virus allowed Nigeria to contain the spread of the outbreak.
Nigeria has only seen 21 total infections from the virus. Eight of these patients have died, including four medical professionals who first treated Patrick Sawyer. But as of last week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria Ebola free. Were it not for the swift and bold actions of Dr. Adadevoh and the other medical staff at First Consultant Hospital, Nigeria could have seen a far more devastating impact from the Ebola outbreak.
Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh was a courageous leader. For Dr. Adadevoh, the action of throwing herself on top of a patient with Ebola was not an option. It was her duty. She understood the threat that allowing Mr. Sawyer to leave the hospital posed to her city and nation, and she put herself between the danger he posed and the safety of the Nigerian public. As Dr. Simon Mardel, a fellow doctor at First Consultant Hospital, told BBC news in the end, “Her actions were about patriotism.”
In the United States the highest military award is the Medal of Honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty in combat. Merriam-Webster’s beautiful definition of valor is the strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness and personal bravery. Like so many soldiers who put themselves in harms way, above and beyond the call of duty, Dr. Adadevoh acted with valor in the fight against Ebola.
The call of leadership often requires us to act with strength of mind and personal bravery in the face of great challenges. While those choices may not be life threatening, they can come at great personal cost. Sometimes the leadership challenge means making tough and unpopular decisions for our organizations. Sometimes the stakes are much higher and call you to put your life on the line to protect others.
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It is the stories of leaders like Dr. Adadevoh that inspire us and set the example of what extraordinary leadership looks like. What is further inspiring about Dr. Adadevoh’s actions is that she did not see them as extraordinary or heroic. She simply saw them as necessary.
She saw her responsibility to her patients, staff and people of her nation as more important than the personal risk that action would have upon herself. It is that kind of leader that cultivates what we call “loyalty behind reason.”
For some, Dr. Adadevoh’s actions were not reasonable. In a world that is preoccupied by self-interest, it would be unreasonable to expect others to act as she did. Yet, she exemplified valor in the midst of a crisis.
While we grieve the devastating loss of life in Nigeria, as well as in the other nations affected by the Ebola outbreak, we also honor and celebrate the courageous acts of compassion and leadership shown by people like Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh.
Author: Brianne Dornbush